20 September 2015

Three Men in a Photo and a Few Words on the Recent Release, Black Mass

I like this picture. I have a lot of pictures that I use as wallpaper for my trusty old MacBook Pro (not a paid endorsement). This is one of my favorites.

On the left is Michael McClure, a poet, novelist and songwriter. Frankly I don't know much about him or his work but he is constantly referenced when I read about some of my favorite writers and artists. As I write this I'm think that I should probably take a look at some of his writing. If one is to be judged strictly by the company she or he keeps then Mr. McClure is quite a talent. According to wikipedia his influences include Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Walt Whitman and Gary Snyder. If those are your influences you're on the right track in my book (would that I actually had a book).

In the middle of the photo is one Bob Dylan. As he is want to do Mr. Dylan is looking somewhat affected. Especially during his early career Dylan was a poser. Not so much for photos but in public. He put on this air of casual indifference and intellectual coolness. The sunglasses were de rigueur for this look. He had a definite persona, one that has evolved or devolved over the years into a bizarre eccentricity. As a kid I played my older brother's Dylan album, specifically the song "Like a Rolling Stone" which I was mesmerized by and listened to over and over. But ultimately the prodigious output of The Beatles overwhelmed Dylan and other voices and when I finally started listening to other music again, Dylan was left out. I came back to him only a few years ago and have been enjoying him very much.

Of course the gentleman on the right is Allen Ginsberg a personal hero of mine. In addition to owning -- through various books -- probably all of his published poems, I have books featuring his correspondence with Kerouac, Snyder and his father. I also have a biography and his published journals. I not only love Ginsberg's poetry, but his entire approach to life. He fully embraced living and being and experimented with being what it means to be human. Like myself he survived having an insane mother and experiencing some emotional tumult but he came out of it all with great passion for people, for peace and for contributing to a better world. In this picture there is intensity in his face as he apparently listens to Dylan. In addition to his other gifts Ginsberg could be a patient listener.

And now for something completely different....

Today I saw Black Mass starring Johnny Depp as the notorious real life gangster Whitey Bulger. Depp is a fine actor who gives an astounding performance here. It is transformative. Depp has wasted his talents for far too long on silly, lightweight pictures many of which are downright awful. He's made a ton of money, enough so that he can well afford to take roles like this that challenge him. Depp has been wonderful in such excellent films as Ed Wood (1994), Donnie Brasco (1997) and Dead Man (1995)

(The first rate cast of Black Mass includes Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon and Peter Sarsgaard as well as some lesser knowns who are terrific, Scott Cooper directed).

The movie itself is essentially quite true to the events it depicts, primarily using the book Black Mass as its source material. Bulger and the events surrounding him make for a compelling story, yet another in a very long series of gangster films from throughout Hollywood's history. There is a scene at a dinner table with Bulger and three others in which a recipe is discussed. Depp is transcendent in this scene which is one of the best few minutes of cinema I've seen in a long, long time.

While I enjoyed Black Mass it was ruined for me by Goodfellas (1990). It was of course my fault entirely but I kept subconsciously comparing the film to Scorsese's earlier masterpiece. Any attempt to imitate Goodfellas would have been forced and unsuccessful but this more straight forward telling of a gangster story can't possibly measure up. If -- as is surely the case -- filmmakers are going to continue to offer the occasional gangster film, they're going to have to do something different and unexpected. Black Mass is a good film on its own terms but it exists in a universe in which many of us have seen Goodfellas, that being the case, good is about all you can hope to achieve.

Another thing that influences my view of crime stories is that I finally, lo these many years late, started watching HBO's The Wire which ran from 2002-2008.  Several people encouraged me to watch it and idiot that I am I waited until seven years after it ended to start. It has been worth the wait. Perhaps I'll delve more into this show later. Suffice to say that for me it ranks right up there with The Sopranos and Breaking Bad among great dramatic television programs.

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